It’s no secret that I like to travel. Regular readers of this blog will also be aware that I like to cook. Put the two together and I’m a tad partial to doing the odd foodie thing when on holidays.
And this particular foodie thing – Red Bridge Cooking School – is one foodie thing that anyone who happens to be in Hoi An and happens to like to eat really should be thinking about doing.
The ancient town in Hoi An is comprised pretty much of tailors and restaurants – and many of those restaurants offer cooking classes – so what makes Red Bridge different? Quite simply because it offers a glimpse into Vietnamese culture and the river way of life as well as teaching you how to roll your own spring roll. It’s a complete experience.
Hoi An Central Markets
Our tour begins with a morning walk around the markets. It’s when you’re in here that it’s easy to realise that although tourism and modern life has added a layer of complexity to society, the heart of daily life is still here.
In the interests of the more squeamish of you, I haven’t posted the photos of the butcher’s stalls, but suffice to say the meat is chopped and displayed on the tables. There are no flies, and the meat is supremely fresh – most having been killed just that morning. (Apparently the flies won’t land on “sticky” meat i.e. fresh meat. ) There’s not even any real smell. It is, however confronting.
I had fewer problems with the herbs, noodles, spices and even the fish – ocean fish inside, river fish outside.
Next up we took a boat along the Hoi An River to the cooking school. Aside from being grateful for the cooling breezes, it’s also interesting to see life as it happens on the river. We watch a pole fisherman propel his narrow boat through the water – he bends and stretches and moves just like a dancer. Sadly I couldn’t get close enough for a decent photo.
Red Bridge have their own organic herb garden.
Vietnamese food relies heavily on herbs and greens, with meat comprising a relatively small portion of most plates. Not only are the herbs used for nutritional reasons, they’re also used as flavours (eg bitter, spicy, umami) and medicinally. Linh points these out as we walk around.
Ok, this is where we get serious. Our chef, Linh, demonstrates a dish, and then we replicate it. Yep, it’s that hands on. Individual cooking stations and no hiding.
First up we make Vietnamese rice flour pancakes – banh xeo. We roll them in rice paper and fill them with herbs and shrimps. Super, super yummy…and surprisingly easy.
Next we make our own fresh steamed rice paper and use it to make rice paper rolls – again filled with herbs and a little meat. We whip up a dipping sauce to go with them.
Finally, it’s a chicken noodle dish. Another simple dish, this has an egg mixed through it while the chicken is cooking. It’s then cooked down in a claypot with some water until most of the liquid is gone and you’re left with a fragrant bowl of comfort. It’s eaten with noodles and again a mountain of herbs.
We eat the rolls as we go, but take our chicken noodle dishes to the open air tables for lunch where we’re also served a seafood salad (using vegetables we julienned in a thrice with this really cool little grater tool – we bought two for them for 60,000dong ie $3.50), and a steamed mackerel.
We leave with recipes, full tummies, and intentions of recreating it all at home. Especially the pancakes.